MANILA - Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol warned Tuesday President Rodrigo Duterte will thwart rice traders who attempt to manipulate the price of the country's staple through hoarding and smuggling.
"Kung sa pag-aakala ng mga rice cartel at rice traders na pwede nilang i-blackmail si Duterte, nagkakamali sila. Kilalanin nila ang mamang ito... Don't mess with this guy kung hindi ka preparadong makipag-away sa kanya," Piñol said in an interview with radio DZMM.
(If rice cartels and rice traders think they can blackmail Duterte, they are mistaken. They should get to know this man. Don't mess with this guy if you are not prepared to fight with him.)
Rice traders, he said, often import rice during the harvest season so they could spike the supply and pay less for the palay (paddy rice) from local farmers.
Duterte recently deferred all rice importations and ordered the National Food Authority to purchase rice from local farmers to boost stockpiles.
Piñol, however, said he has received reports that some traders are attempting to smuggle rice into the country.
He said a supporter of Duterte in Malaysia recently sent him photos of Vietnamese vessels loading rice to ships which were bound for Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga provinces.
Piñol said he will urge the President to form a task force that will block smuggling attempts, inspect the warehouses of rice traders and update the inventory of stockpiles.
"Kapag ang task force na ito ay nagsimula nang gumalaw, tingnan ko lang kung 'di umikot ang tumbong nila," he said.
(Once this task force starts moving, we'll see if they are not shaken.)
BETTER LIVES FOR FARMERS
The Agriculture chief had recommended the deferment of rice imports due to the good local harvest in the first quarter of 2017.
But the Foundation for Economic Freedom, a group of former economic officials, and New York-based think tank Global Source warned separately that import curbs could drive up rice prices.
Piñol reiterated that rice supply is sufficient because production went up to 4.14 million metric tons in the last 3 months, 210,000 metric tons higher compared to the harvest from the same period in 2016.
The private sector, he added, has imported 650,000 metric tons of rice between 2016 and February 2017 while the NFA imported 250,000 tons.
Piñol also said Filipino farmers would have earned only P12 per kilo of palay if Duterte allowed imported rice to enter the country.
With the imports suspended, their earnings grew to a total of P23 billion in the first quarter of 2017 alone.
A higher purchasing power for farmers would eventually alleviate poverty in the countryside, said Piñol.
"Iyung P23 billion na estimated na additional income ng farmers, gagamitin na iyan sa pagpaaaral ng kanilang mga anak, pagbili ng bagong damit, bagong TV. Makakabili iyan ng karne ng baka siguro o magandang klase ng isda, beer na malamig," he said.
"Iyan po ay makakatulong sa pagpapaikot ng pera sa countryside. In the long run, that will lessen poverty in the countryside."
(That P23 billion in estimated additional income for farmers that will be used to send their children to school, buy new clothes, new TVs. They can buy beef or perhaps good fish, cold beer. That will help circulate cash in the countryside. In the long run, that will lessen poverty in the countryside.)
To ensure that the farmers' earnings will not be spent instead on loans for rice grains, Piñol said the government will give them up to P50,000 in loans which may be paid for up 10 years with 6 percent interest.
This "easy access financing" scheme, he said, will first be tested in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija and Malimono, Surigao del Norte this harvest season before it is implemented in the entire country.